by Paul Gallagher Published
Following his introduction in the last issue, Paul Gallagher now gives us a candid rundown on the trials and tribulations of converting into large format camera work and the attendant processing. It acts as a wonderful foil to the frantic pace of the RAW workflow discussion in the earlier part of the magazine - it makes one quite nostalgic really!
When I eventually made the decision to move up a format from 6x7cm and leave my Mamiya RB for the Walker Titan XL, it was difficult to envisage how much all the peripheral gear would cost. Firstly I was now the proud owner of a beautiful, hand-made, large-format camera, a standard, 150mm Schneider lens, focusing loupe and cloth but that was about it. I was used to the versatility of having a standard lens and a wider Sekor 50mm f4.5 lens on the Mamiya, about as wide as I would normally wish to go. I was also used to heading into Scotland, miles from anywhere, with tens of rolls of Ilford Delta 100 and a few rolls of Delta 400. In a day, it was not unusual for me to shoot 40 to 50 frames. With 5x4 things were not going to be quite as straightforward.Paul Gallagher
I transformed myself into an avid Ebay-searcher, with the large-format photography section saved, as a shortcut on my computer. The film holders were not the financial shock I had expected - it is easy to pick up a good quality, double film holder, such as the Fidelity Elite, for as little as £5. The one bonus I did notice at this stage was that the massive surge of people towards digital had generated a healthy quantity of film gear for sale. On this type of auction site this means the bids are 'diluted' slightly, which, in turn, means you can get a bargain. I eventually made a rough calculation of time to set up the camera and the photo opportunities it would allow in a day and decided on 20 film holders, in total. Now I had my film holders, all I had to do was load them with film and get out there, shooting to my daily limit of 40 sheets.
Then I turned my attention to lenses and found, once again, that Ebay and its large-format section to be the best bet. I bought a spectacularly clean Schneider Super Angulon 90mm f8 for £240. This offered me the equivalent field of view that I was used to when shooting in medium format and the versatility I was anticipating from camera movements.
When I was considering film some of my photographer friends suggested that I could now afford to move to a faster emulsion and use 400 ASA instead of my usual 100 ASA. This was a view that I could not entirely agree with. After all, I was now working slower than ever before, and governed by the amount of film that I was able to carry and the methods involved in large-format work. Why after moving to a large-format camera would I ever consider trading some of the quality of the image to get a slightly faster shutter speed? Furthermore I consider pressing the trigger of a large-format camera to be the least exciting part of the entire process. I took a friend of mine out for a few hours when I first got my Walker camera to show and, hopefully, impress him with the art and fascination of large-format photography. It was at the very stage during the proceedings, when I pressed the cable release, that he said, "All that palaver for that little 'click'?"! So this summed up for me the need to get everything out of the camera that I can and if it is too windy I will probably wait for calmer weather or go back on a better day.
I bought a couple of boxes of Ilford Delta 100 sheet film and fumbled in the darkroom with one 'sacrificed' sheet until I had the loading and unloading off to a fine art. Now all I had to do was make this fine art process extend beyond the darkroom and into the field and produce some fine, arty prints - which was the intention after all.
There are 43 days to get ready for The Societies of Photographers Convention and Trade Show at The Novotel London West, Hammersmith ...
which starts on Wednesday 15th March 2023